From the Desk of Bob Mankoff - February 10, 2010 6:03 PM
From: "New Yorker"
I’m feeling a great deal of affection for all of you. That is why I’m addressing you in this affectionate way. Also, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and expressing affection is cheaper then sending all of you chocolates.
I’m not being ironic here, because, if I were being ironic, I would be saying the opposite of what I mean, and you would understand that I mean the opposite of what I say. Like, if you were fat, and I called you “Tiny,” you certainly wouldn’t take that as a compliment. Also, it wouldn’t be very nice, but it would be somewhat nicer then me calling you “lard-ass.” That would be outright ridicule, such as I employed in this cartoon:
For which, by the way, I want to “apologize” to all the “people of size” I may have “offended.” I’d send you chocolates, but, frankly, you don’t need that any more than you need ironic quotation marks. Look, you’re fat, not stupid like the guy in this cartoon:
Making fun of people, rightly or wrongly, has been a staple not only of cartoons, but of all forms of humor as long as there have been forms of humor, and probably even before that.
I’d speculate that a fat man falling hard on his padded posterior has always been funny and always will be, especially if he’s carrying a big box of chocolates. It’s funnier with a fat man than a skinny man because 1) he’s got all that padding so he won’t really get hurt, and 2) I’m skinny.
Part of having a good sense of humor is being able to laugh at your own misfortunes, but that never comes as naturally as laughing at someone else’s.
When we aim to be funny, it’s always easiest if we have a target.
The justification for all this malevolent mirth, going way back to Aristotle, is that by holding up idiocy to ridicule we might reduce it. That we might, as it were, “laugh folly out of existence.” Syllogistically, a la Aristotle, it might be put something like this:
1) People behaving stupidly will be mocked.
2) People don’t like to be mocked.
3) People will stop behaving stupidly.
That didn’t pan out, did it? Many mocking millennia have passed with no diminution in idiocy, so maybe we need to come up with a new defense of derision, a manifesto of “the rights of ridicule” that would also deal with its wrongs, or maybe not. In any case, that can wait until after Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile, share the “love.”